Grab The Garnish Off The Plate And Put It In Your Hair. By Monique Jenkinsonon Feb 16 in Article, Blog Salon, Mapping, Special Presentation by Ernesto
I will start my post with the questions with which I was presented at the outset. I will try to answer most of them. I hope this isn’t too massive.
So what makes Bay Area queer economies what they are? What are our secrets and what are our struggles? And maybe most importantly, how are we creating, sharing and redefining what our resources are? Does the queer presence around here assume that we have some shared experience about managing ourselves within an economy that, in so many ways, queers are barely on the margins of?
I think that this comes back to that pesky issue of us having many different, and some shared experiences of queerness. Most of us participate continuously in intersecting circles of economies: queer, straight, mainstream, underground, artistic, corporate, freelance, government, etc. There are economies that many of us are ‘barely on the margins of’ and others to which we are integral. And that varies from person to person.
I think of a gay friend who earns a fabulous living and has made a beautiful life (which he shares with his partner, who years ago started a chapter of ACT UP) by working as a top event designer. Weddings, weddings, weddings are his bread and butter. Weddings bought their house in upstate New York and weddings are why he has a book coming out. Is he not queer? He is indeed. (I do have gay friends who I do not consider queer – more on that below, but I won’t bore you with yet another interrogation/definition of ‘queer.’ Take my word for it). However, he is in fact at the very core of the straightest economy there is: the wedding.
We’ve got to get better and better at the game of understanding the economies to which we do and do not belong.I think we can use the economies to which we ‘do not belong’ for information and resources. I believe in infiltration. However, relative to the question above, I think there are ways to use our integral membership in certain economies in order to move ourselves out of the margins and demand fair inclusion.
I have always thought that the best way to fight for marriage equality would be ‘Your Special Day Without a Gay’, a big June walkout on the wedding industry by all gays, lesbians and queers. As in many protests, the queers with less to lose would probably have to instigate, but the gays with power and money could really make things happen. This would be financially risky because of the deep economic ties between gays and the wedding industry, and much more difficult than the Florida orange juice boycott of 1977.
It would have to be planned with warlike strategy. Just try to have a wedding without a gay, lesbian or queer caterer, chef, cater waiter, florist, makeup artist, wedding designer, dress designer, graphic designer, photographer, hairstylist or friend. Maybe you could, but it would be tired, tacky and joyless.
How do you understand the term “queer economy”? What does it mean to you?
My participation in queer economy is pretty much contingent upon my choice (or calling) to be the kind of artist I am and make the kind of art that I make. Every choice I have made to support art-making has resulted in a pretty queer life. I am an adult woman who goes to and works in nightclubs with young gay men. I have never owned a home, car, or washing machine. I am married to a man who spends as much time in gay bars as I do and we are child-free by choice.
While I wish my parents had done more to educate me about economic realities of the harsh world, I don’t think they were aware of the ways in which they fostered my cultural and economic queerness.
I was one of the first in my family to go to college. My parents sent me to a very arty and experimental school under the misguided assumption that it would lead to a lucrative career, not realizing that the graduates of said college who had lucrative careers were most likely supported by their rich parents.
And again, I realize that my parents’ ability to send me to said school, even with financial aid, would qualify them as rich, but compared to the Hollywood producers’ and dignitaries’ kids with whom I went to college, I was working class. It’s all relative
In 2009 I premiered a piece called Luxury Items It was the result of years of research, and began with my attempt to reconcile the vow of poverty I had taken as an artist with the undeniable fact that I like nice things and want a few of them. Scroll down for two selections of writing from the piece.
I remember, at the age of 7, asking my Mom if ‘I could please be sent away to boarding school. In Switzerland.’ I have no idea where I got that, but I have always kind of fetishized the posh while maintaining a precocious skepticism about the relationship between real happiness and material wealth.
In my research I re-connected with Oscar Wilde’s essay ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’ which puts forth a practice of Socialism or Communism (he uses them interchangeably) which leads pretty much to an anarchist Utopia in which everyone enjoys nice things, but no one owns too much. Fascinating reading if you’re interested. Not without its problems, of course… And kind of a good analysis of here
What are resources that keep you afloat?
Waiting tables kept me afloat for a really long time. Restaurant work, like stripping and sex work, is a great funder of artists and queers. All can become really problematic, all can be great resources as long as they work. Restaurants usually feed you, and that’s handy. Restaurant work also enabled a kind of generosity that was elusive to me when I was cash poor. With a pocket full of cash after a night’s work waiting tables I was able, for the first time to say: ‘I’ll get this round.’ And I LOVED that. I get a huge amount of joy playing macho provider daddy and picking up the tab. Sometimes, it is the only way to show appreciation for a hardworking collaborating artist whom I can’t pay enough.
This year I have the great blessing of a fellowship at the de Young Museum: one of those rare opportunities for which I have been working, waiting and praying. Huge. As I embark on work at my luxurious new digs, I realize that even though this is what I have been wishing for (space, money, multiple projectors, multiple interns, tech support?!?), my identity as an artist and sense of self-value is really wrapped up in my ability to do it all myself. Embracing this level of privilege is kind of an unexpected challenge.
Where do you get the best super-cheap meal?
Home-cooked wins hands down, but otherwise; King of Thai Noodles, El Toro or Tin Vietnamese.
Dumpster diving: love it or hate it?
Literal dumpsters are gross, but I’ve found a lot of amazing stuff on the street. I get my thrifting gene from my dad, who like any good capitalist, loves a good bargain, and apparently found my childhood furniture on the street.
Do rich queers exist?
Yes, but there aren’t enough of them to go around. I have dear friends who are rich gay men who might be considered ‘rich queers’ but who are actually considerably less culturally queer than I am. I go to The Stud and some of them have kids, for example. Some of them have two homes. I’ll probably never own one.
Do they make you feel weird?
Sometimes. It has taken a while for my rich gay friends to think of themselves as rich (I think that this is because compared to the highest earners in their fields, they aren’t, and for most of their lives, they weren’t). I have had a couple of awkward conversations in which those particular friends complained about taking a pay cut, or having to dip into their savings after losing a job, and I have had to say: ‘Really, your pay cut is probably more money than I will ever see in one place in my life. I can’t empathize. Sorry.’
I want to emphasize however that I truly respect the hard work and creativity that got them to where they are, that many of them have donated money to my art, and that if and when I have a board, you bet they will be on it.
How do you feel fabulous when you’re broke?
Taking a bath. Foraging in the back of my closet (sometimes selling what I find). Covering something old in glitter. I like flowers. Sometimes I buy them, sometimes I grow them, sometimes I poach them from trees on the street. I remember once when I was really broke I had to go to a (wealthy) friend’s birthday party. Everyone was supposed to bring a bottle of bubbly. I bought mine with coins from the coin jar. I had to come straight from a catering gig. After the gig I saved one of the orchids that was being used as a garnish on a plate of passed appetizers and put it in my hair. I felt and looked fabulous. I realized then that no matter how broke I feel, I will always live well.
Do you like your job?
Which one? I mostly like my job(s), but the fact that I have always had to have a day job makes art-making a lot harder and means I always feel like I am running to catch up, missing opportunities, and making art that could be a lot better if I had more time. Now that I am just being an artist and teaching yoga, I am much happier than I was when I was being an artist, teaching yoga and waiting tables. But as soon as I quit waiting tables, it took about a week for teaching to feel like a job. It’s a really nice job though, as far as jobs go. I love my students.
Is everything really better in Europe?
I have no idea. I imagine it is better than it is here but worse than it used to be.
Did switching from BOA to a local credit union make your art better?
Ashamed to say, I am still working on that. Having to spend time thinking about it uses precious time, which cuts into art-making, which is why I haven’t done it.
Can we count on the government for anything? Can we afford not to?
I really don’t know.
What is the non-money thing that makes you feel the most rich?
My friends. Cleaning my beautiful apartment and sitting in it.
Have you seen The Inside Job?
Not yet. Have you seen Friends With Money?
Which economies do you consent to being a part of, and which are you kicking and screaming to get out of?
Got out of food service, which served me well for 15 years, and then had me kicking and screaming for a year before I finally got out.
The economy of the wedding industry (see above) kind of makes me sick to my stomach, which is why I never had a ‘real wedding.’ I married the love of my life because he is Canadian and that was the easiest way to allow him to stay in the country. We kept our marriage a secret for a while, because we did it when we were pretty young, and we were really conflicted about it because of all of our queer friends. For a while we thought about getting divorced, but in the end, that just seemed silly, not to mention costly.
What’s your biggest or most consistent financial stress and how do you deal?
Health care. I suck it up and pay late when I can, but my insurance has gone up every year for about 5 years.
I recently had a good cry on in the nurse practitioner’s exam room. She was as frustrated as I am.
What’s the most expensive purchase you’ve ever made?
The laptop on which I am writing this (which is now ancient at four years old). Unless you call a procedure under general anesthesia during which pre-cancerous cells were scraped out of my cervix a ‘purchase,’ then that would win, hands down.
How’d it feel?
Do you wish you had more money?
What does having good health mean and what does it cost?
For me it is mostly about prevention and it changes every day. But it does cost time and money. And unfortunately, without my too-costly insurance I might have full-blown cancer by now.
How should artists and orgs deal with dwindling grant resources?
I hate to say something as annoying and condescending as ‘get creative!’ but that does seem to be the answer. Look to resources you wouldn’t normally think of as resources, and make friends with money. I think Philip Huang probably has a lot more to say about this than me.
Credit cards: OH HEY! or NO WAY! ?
I was blissfully debt-free until last year. I got into the disciplined habit of only using my CC for air travel and paying it off immediately. I have a CC with a mileage program, which has been pretty useful. I am in a relatively small amount of debt now due to using my card for basics last year when I was really broke.
Where’d you get those amazing boots?!
I got them five years ago at the Gimme Shoes sale. And I still get compliments on them every day, thank you very much.
How do we make sustainable financial choices for our queer realities (the million dollar question)?
A financial planner would probably tell you to be wise and think ahead. I would add: invest in yourself.
Two excerpts from Luxury Items:
The socially conscious aesthete has to stay informed.
The socially conscious aesthete is always having dilemmas.
She wants to save trees, but she also wants to save print media.
She needs the subscription to properly embody her wants
One evening the socially conscious aesthete was leafing through one of these when there came into her mind a disconcerting thought. The thought – this is really shallow.
And she looked at the cover, and she saw that it was ‘Lucky: the Magazine About Shopping’. And she thought to herself ‘No shit it’s shallow. It’s Lucky the Magazine About Shopping. And really, isn’t that redundant? The Magazine about Shopping?’
Well no. No no. No no no.
Because any aesthete. Any fashionista, or frugalista, or recessisonista, worth her weight in costume baubles will tell you
It isn’t about shopping.
Shopping cannot begin do it justice.
Shopping is a vulgar fact of life.
It’s about meticulous cultivation.
It is about deep. Desire.
It’s about sacrifice.
It. Isn’t. About. Shopping.
And then I thought to myself, she thought to herself, I thought to myself: ‘Lucky.’ Well, I am Lucky.
I am lucky.
Lucky I was not raised in an orphanage by nuns
Lucky I never had to sell apples or pencils during the Great Depression
Lucky I never had to hide in an attic from the Nazis
Lucky I never had to work the family farm to survive
Lucky I didn’t get married off at the age of 12 to someone whose mother thought my dowry was too small.
Lucky no one ever tried to set me on fire
Lucky I wasn’t sold to a brothel at the age of 10
Lucky I never had to compete in one of those toddler beauty pageants
Lucky I never had to walk 3 miles in the snow both ways anywhere
Lucky I did not have to run across half of Canada with one prosthetic leg
Lucky I was not stranded on the roof by a hurricane
Lucky I am not Ruth Madoff
Lucky I was not born a slave in ancient Egypt or a peasant in 18th century France
Lucky I was not born in Afghanistan the day someone decided girls weren’t allowed to go to school
Lucky I wasn’t born in rural China and then left out in a field to die of exposure
Lucky I was not born deaf and blind
Lucky I didn’t grow up to be a huffer. Or a hoarder.
Lucky I didn’t spend my childhood making lace for 6 pence a day
Lucky I didn’t die from exhaustion working in a calico mill
Lucky Lucky Lucky
12,977 hours of dance class and unpaid rehearsal
12,500 hours of waitressing shifts to pay for class and rehearsal
A life spent in pursuit of This.
The shared fantasy, the ephemeral moment.
After years of This, a major audition notice finally appears.
‘Open call: 18-25.’ And though at the time I’m almost 28, I go.
Because it’s for a musical about people like me and my friends: starving artists, waitresses, strippers, trannies, outlaws…. This is an audition for Rent! I’m hungry, I’m ready to sell myself out, I’m gonna nail it. Broadway style. Ba-bam!
I get to the audition. At the luxury hotel.
And realize I am not special. There will be no high kicks or jazz hands. This is about blending.
And there they all are. All these cute, accomplished kids; so well-scrubbed, so well-brought up. Singing that song. You know the song. ‘Five hundred twenty six thousand eighteen minutes.’I am auditioning for Rent and I don’t even know that song.
And there they all are. Even sprawled out at this cattle call they sound like a boys’ and girls’ choir. Some even harmonizing with their competitors. Like little angels: ‘Eight hundred thirty five thousand thirteen minutes.’ I am kind of moved and kind of embarrassed and kind of disgusted, as one often is by angels, and musicals.
Are these fresh-faced kids what the tragically dead playwright had in mind? Can these kids manage to fabricate in moments, the pathos I have crafted so diligently over a lifetime?
I begin to doubt my maverick choice of audition song. But it’s my turn:
Hello. Yes. I — Oh, non union. I am auditioning for chorus bohemian number 20.
‘Time it could have been so much more…’
But by now I am already out of time. I am already too old. I am getting older by the minute. And now, just like the tragically dead writer of Rent, no one is going to know my true value until its too late. If I’m lucky.
And now I see why the notices say 18-25. If you get past the age of 25 trying to make an authentic bohemian life for yourself, the irony of playing a perky chorus version of that self in a musical with a thirty million dollar budget is not lost on you.
Oooh and time.
I don’t wanna be in Rent. I want the 30 million dollar budget.
Time it could have been so much more, time won’t give me time
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes, Five hund—
Oh. Thank you. Thank YOU.
Monique Jenkinson / Fauxnique
She is currently embarking on a year-long Irvine Fellowship at SF’s de Young Museum. Her drag queen persona, Fauxnique, a fixture on the experimental performance scene, made history as the first woman to win SF’s infamous Miss Trannyshack Pageant (2003), and was named SF Bay Guardian’s ‘Best Drag Act’ (2009). Monique has created and performed everywhere in San Francisco from the de Young to the Stud. She graduated from Bennington College with a B.A. in Dance and Literature.
Next Appearances –
Open Studio Hours at the de Young Museum’s Kimball Education Gallery, Wed – Sun, Feb 16 – 26, 3-5PM, creating new work to be shown
Performance at Soiree 10, a Benefit and anniversary celebration for The Center, March 24, 7-11PM
Performance and curation for Friday Nights at the de Young April 27, 6 -9PM
Current Projects – A year-long Irvine Fellowship at the de Young Museum.